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Few trees are more awe-inspiring than the ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba). They’ve survived for more than 150 million years, and they actually grew alongside dinosaurs for much of their existence. Although now nearly extinct in the wild, the fossil record shows that the ginkgo used to grow in abundance throughout much of the world, including North America. It was native in Nebraska over 70 million years ago. Since its rediscovery by western botanists in China and Japan around 1700, the ginkgo has been planted throughout much of Asia, Europe and North America. The first ginkgos are thought to have been planted in Nebraska in the late 1800s. Today, many ginkgos can be found in the state, including large specimens in Lincoln, Kearney and Omaha and an impressive grove at Arbor Lodge State Historical Park in Nebraska City. Though not as reliable in the western part of the state, some specimens are surviving there with extra care and protection, including some impressive specimens in downtown Potter. The ginkgo is respected enough by the nursery industry to have been selected as a Tree of the Year back in 2005 for the GreatPlants® for the Great Plains program, a joint effort of the Nebraska Nursery and Landscape Association and the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum that selects and promotes exceptional plants well-suited to the region. Ginkgo can grow up to 60 feet tall and 50 feet wide and its distinctive fan-shaped leaves turn a nice golden yellow in the fall. It’s dramatic both in its golden fall color and the fact that, once it freezes, the leaves tend to fall to the ground seemingly overnight rather than over an extended period. In its native China, herbal extracts of ginkgo leaves have been used medicinally for thousands of years to treat a wide variety of ailments. Scientific research does not support many of these claims, however, but it does appear that ginkgo can aid blood circulation and improve memory in some people. It is now being researched closely as a possible benefit to Alzheimer patients. Beware that female ginkgo trees produce seeds within very stinky fleshy fruits. The smell most likely evolved to attract animals that eat carrion, thus helping to spread its seeds. For this reason, most people prefer to plant one of the many male cultivars that are available in the nursery trade, including the fairly common ‘Autumn Gold’ variety. If the sex of the seedling/nursery plant is not known, it would be wise not to place it near a sidewalk or within about 30 feet of where its potential fruit aroma might be problematic.
Welcome to our website! Nebraska Statewide Arboretum (3.45 minute video) is a membership-based nonprofit focused on education and resources for sustainable home and community landscapes. We have initiatives on native plants, a grant program for community-wide landscape enhancement and stormwater control, and an affiliate site program with more than 90 affiliated arboretum sites. Browse our website and check in with your questions and ideas.